Sanibel, FL, September 5, 2018- A group of Florida Catholics, organized to counter serious abuses of authority by Venice Bishop Frank Dewane, today issued a statement claiming that the bishop’s “reckless and malicious” acts against St. Isabel’s Pastor, Christopher Senk, showed a lack of integrity and grave injustices that violate both Civil and Canon law. Parishioners for Justice for Father Christopher Senk made the statement after reviewing Bishop Dewane’s Annual Labor Day Message on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – Just Wages and Human Flourishing .
Bishop Dewane heads the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. In this capacity, he speaks on issues such as labor, Catholic social teaching and various domestic and international topics. This year’s Labor Day Message calls for actions that owe much to the teachings of Pope Francis: pay a fair wage, unions have a right to exist, business owners must be just and humane.
Bishop Dewane, for all of his pronouncements, is an unjust employer, according to the statement. Parishioners for Justice cites a pervasive lack of justice and humanity in his administration, demonstrated by arbitrary and unfair actions against diocesan employees as well as various priests, nuns and laity.
PFJ maintains that Bishop Dewane’s most egregious act is his treatment of Father Christopher Senk who has been deprived of two
basic rights enshrined in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the US Constitution – the right to due process and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation .
Father Senk was placed on administrative leave fully two years after the family of an elderly parishioner filed an allegation with the Diocese of Venice, accusing the pastor of unethical financial interactions with their relative. In the intervening two years, the bishop gave no notice of the allegation. An investigation by the civil authorities, initiated by the family, resulted in a declaration by the county sheriff that the pastor was innocent, that there was a lack of evidence even to issue an arrest warrant, much less prosecute.
A full six months after these findings, the pastor was placed on administrative leave by the bishop. He was given only a few hours to collect his things and leave his home and is forbidden to preach or say Mass publicly. The local press was notified of this action by the diocese even before parishioners were told, seemingly to maximize embarrassment to the pastor and harm to the parish community. Those shocked by the announcement at a Saturday evening Mass exited the church to encounter media cameras and microphones.
Parishioners for Justice, now more than 500 strong, has raised more than $250,000 for Father Senk’s defense. The group has sought help from the USCCB and the Vatican and met with Bishop Dewane to no avail. Despite nearly two years of effort to resolve this matter, Bishop Dewane has refused to restore Father Senk to his ministry and continues his unethical collusion with the family of the parishioner.
The statement from Parishioners for Justice follows.
A Labor Day Statement from Parishioners for Justice
For Father Christopher Senk
As head of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice has issued The USCCB’s Annual Labor Day Message, Just Wages and Human Flourishing.
The Labor Day statement quotes Pope Francis and his predecessors on the value of honest labor and the need for just and humane treatment of workers. After nearly two years of fighting to restore the civil rights and priesthood of our beloved pastor, Father Christopher Senk, Parishioners for Justice can only point to the very definite disconnect in a bishop appearing to be an authority on matters of justice while being the cause of such great injustice.
Bishop Dewane’s abuse of his authority has caused great harm to Father Christopher, the parishioners of St. Isabel Church and the many diocesan employees, priests and nuns who have been hurt by Bishop Dewane’s vendettas against anyone who challenges his authority. He regularly violates fair employment practices as mandated by state and federal law, dismissing employees without due process, cancelling health insurance, refusing to negotiate in good faith and burying opposition in layers of Church bureaucracy.
The personal integrity demanded of a person who makes public statements about justice is great, and when that integrity is not present, the words of the statement sound hollow.
For example, in his Labor Day message for the USCCB, Frank Dewane states: “Pope Francis calls us to see our ‘life as a mission,’ and to ‘ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every movement of your life and in every decision, you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received’.”
Really, Bishop Dewane? Is this what you think Jesus would advise? In all of the reckless and malicious decisions you have made, concerning Father Christopher and St. Isabel Church, did you actually allow the Spirit to guide you? What an insult to God’s Spirit to suggest that the Spirit had anything to do with the pain and suffering you inflicted on a good priest and a group of faithful Catholics! When you made decisions that would humiliate and malign Father Christopher’s good name, armed with nothing more than the arguably false accusations of a greedy but powerful family, was the Spirit guiding that decision? Did the Spirit move you to violate Father Senk’s Constitutional rights to due process and to be advised of the accusations against him?
The innate goodness and mercy of a loving God answers these questions with a resounding “No!” When Bishop Dewane rebuffed the attempts of concerned parishioners to settle this dispute amicably with no further harm to the Church’s reputation, was the Spirit present? Again, the answer is “No!”
Parishioners for Justice has always maintained that abuse of authority by bishops is as harmful to the Church and the Faithful as sexual abuse. The recent revelations of the most heinous sexual crimes and coverups by bishops around the world have generated grave doubt about the veracity and ethics of churchmen at the highest level. As faithful Catholics, we must counter these abuses and fight for justice in every aspect of Church life.
As the Old Testament commands (Micah 6:8) O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
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